Background: homebirth for low risk women attended by competent midwives who are networked within a responsive maternity care service is supported by research as safe. Concerns exist over the safety of homebirths which are unattended by trained health professionals, or for women with medically defined risk factors. Both these birth choices are unsupported by mainstream maternity care options in Australia and therefore represent birth choices considered to be 'outside the system'.
Aim: to explore the perceptions of risk held by women who choose to have a freebirth (birth at home intentionally unattended by a trained birth attendant) or a 'high-risk' homebirth (professionally attended home birth where a mother or baby has medically defined risk factors). Both of these choices are considered to be 'outside the system'.
Methods: twenty women were interviewed about their choice to 'birth outside the system', nine choosing freebirth and 11 choosing to have an attended homebirth despite the presence of medically defined risk factors; three were primiparous and seventeen were multiparous. Women intending to have, or having had a freebirth or high risk homebirth, were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.
Findings: the three main themes about perceptions of risk that were evident in this study were: 'Birth always has an element of risk', 'The hospital is not the safest place to have a baby'; and 'interference is a risk'.
Discussion: the participants acknowledge that birth is a time in life that carries an element of risk. They perceive that hospital represents a more risky place to give birth than at home and that interventions and interruptions during labour and birth increase risk. Women who birth outside the system perceive the risks of birth in hospital differently to most women. These women feel that by birthing outside the system they are making a choice that protects them and their babies from the risks associated with birthing in hospital and thus provides them with the best and safest birthing option.
Conclusion: in pursuing the best for themselves and their babies, women who birth outside the system spent a lot of time and energy considering the risks and weighing these up. For them birth in hospital is considered less safe than birth at home.
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